This week’s post is a little different from most of my others. Instead of talking about a concrete writing tip, I want to write about the Amazon rating system. I am pretty sure that we have all seen the 1 to 5 star scale next to a book’s title, and most readers will tell you that a 4 or 5 star review is fantastic, but they might not be able to tell you what criteria warrants those kinds of reviews. Using the 5 star review system, I would like to explain what should go behind each set of reviews.
1 Star – This level of a review means that that book was awful. Only the absolute worst books deserve this review. I would argue that a one star should never be given to a book that a reader actually finishes. This is for the one’s you can’t read.
If the editing is so poor that you close the cover in disgust, that qualifies as a one star. This rating means that major elements inside the story are broken. Clarity problems, unoriginality, or unbelievable characters/plots can all be the reason why it deserves a one star, but only if it is so bad that you cannot finish the book. If I had to publish one of my major WIP’s right now they would deserve a one star. Parts of my story are broken (characters mainly) and they have not been line or copyedited meaning that there are almost as many typos as there are words.
2 Stars – Just as there are twice the amount of stars than in the last set, there should be a far greater amount of books who have this rating. This is a negative rating, but books with two stars should be far superior than those with one. This should be given for a book that you do not finish, but rather than being knocked out of the story, you simply put it down and decide to not go back.
Stories that are boring, but do not have major problems should receive two stars. Minor typos, an abundance of unnecessary information, or rough prose can all contribute to this rating as well. Off the top of my head, there are only two popular books that I have read that I would give 2 stars. They are The Amulet of Samarkand By: Jonathan Stroud and The Slow Regard of Silent Things By: Patrick Rothfuss.
3 Stars – The vast majority of books should receive this rating. A 3 star review means that the book is average. If you finish something and thought it was okay, it deserves 3 stars. If you enjoyed a book, put it down, and then forgot to pick it up for months, you should give it 3 stars as long as you would be willing go back and finish it.
Some stories are well written but lack the creativity to stand on their own. In my opinion, this can be seen in many modern zombie, vampire, and Tolkien-esque stories. They can be entertaining but because they are so close to some other well-know work, I am more likely to forget them after I read their last word. It is kind of hard to find an example of a three star book (I’ve probably forgotten most of the 3 star books I have read) but by going through my bookshelf I would give, Cross By: James Patterson, The Pacific By: Hugh Ambrose, and World War Z By: Max Brooks 3 stars.
4 Stars – This rating means that the book is good. There can still be minor errors present, but overall you enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to someone else. The biggest difference between this and the next level is that a 4 star book is great, but it is not among your favorites. In my opinion, Harry Potter By: J.K. Rowling, An Ember in the Ashes By: Sabaa Tahir, and City of Bones By: Cassandra Claire would all receive 4 stars.
5 Stars – I don’t need to tell you much about 5 stars reviews other than they should only be given to a book that you would consider one of your favorites. For me, Name of the Wind By: Patrick Rothfuss, Way of Kings By: Brandon Sanderson, and The Wheel of Time By: Robert Jordan qualify for a five star review. There are plenty of others, but you get the idea.
Ultimately, you can give whatever book whatever review you want, but I find this system far more useful than giving every book I like 5 stars and everything I didn’t 1. Aside from reviews, I have found this system helpful in the beta reading stage because I will ask readers to rate the categories: character, plot, setting, editing, and creativity with this system. If someone gives my plot a 4 and my characters a 2, it becomes pretty easy to figure out my weak areas. Once I average the scores from all of the categories, I can get a better idea of what the reader would actually have rated my work.